Saturday, August 31, 2013

A Showdown in Ink and a Man for Breakfast

The Nugget mourns the cowboys
Battles were fought more often with ink than with lead in the Tombstone, AZ, of the 1880s.
The showdown at the O.K. Corral reignited a running battle between the town’s two major newspapers that had its origins in the animosities of the Civil War. The Tombstone Epitaph backed the Northern-oriented, Republican business interests and the Earps, while the Tombstone Nugget backed the Southern-sympathizing, Democratic rancher and “cowboy” faction (“cowboy” then being a term that referred to a red-sashed band of violent cattle thieves).
The Nugget was owned and edited by boyish-looking, blond Harry W. Woods, who also served as undersheriff. A former territorial legislator in Tucson, Woods had once jumped out a window to prevent lawmakers from having a quorum on a bill he opposed. Woods was an energetic politician but not much of a lawman, and had shamed himself throughout Arizona when he either ineptly or corruptly permitted the escape of Luther King, a stagecoach robber who had been tracked and arrested by the Earps.
After the Earps and Doc Holliday fought and killed cowboys Billy Clanton and Tom and Frank McLaury near the O.K. Corral on Oct. 26, 1881, the Nugget mourned their loss, and townspeople who had initially backed the Earps became increasingly suspicious of them. The Nugget helped get the Earps and Holliday charged with murder, but the prosecution’s case crumbled at the preliminary hearing and charges were dismissed.
Newspapers of the 19th century rarely let fact interfere with partisanship. The Epitaph reported every cowboy crime in the county, while the Nugget accused the Epitaph of driving away business investment by over-reporting crimes committed by the faction the Nugget backed. The Nugget’s frequent references to baldness were shots at Tombstone Mayor John P. Clum, who was nearly murdered by cowboys in a wild stagecoach ride that was apparently an assassination attempt.
The Nugget was mocked by the San Francisco Report newspaper for its maudlin “drooling and driveling over the three murderous young thieves who were executed in such and inexpensive and timely manner.”
The Report dubbed the Nugget “the Daily Cowboy,” a nickname that delighted the editor at the Epitaph. The Nugget, in turn, helped hang the nickname “the Daily Strangler” on the Epitaph, accusing the paper of supporting anti-cowboy vigilantism.
The Nugget accidentally gave Tombstone a nickname that stuck — “Hell Dorado,” a pun that connected the violent mining town to the legendary riches of El Dorado. And the Epitaph, republishing a remark originally made in the Harshaw Bulletin, popularized a phrase that became Tombstone’s historic legacy — the town that “(has) a man for breakfast occasionally.”
The expression was a way of saying that Tombstone citizens would awaken in the morning to find a freshly murdered corpse on their streets. While that wasn’t strictly true, given the fact that most of the killings were committed in the remoter parts of Cochise County, it was true enough.
Sources: “Inventing Wyatt Earp: His Life and Many Legends," Allen Barra; “Wyatt Earp: The Life Behind the Legend,” Casey Tefertiller

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